Others did. Mr. Simon Brooke of Clúid stated it on radio the other day. He made the point - there has been a suggestion by the Minister of State to this effect - that we had not kicked up about this issue when the RAS was first introduced. The implication is that we are making a mountain out of a molehill and that, despite what we claim, there are no problems with the Bill. However, that is not true. In June 2011 some of us flagged the major problem with the RAS and the Government's proposals, which have found their way into this legislation. The issues have been raised in the Dáil repeatedly since. I looked back through a few statements I published at the time. In June 2011 I referred to how all new entrants to the RAS would be considered to be adequately housed and would no longer be eligible to be on housing waiting lists. I stated this was unbelievable, representing a counter-revolution in the State's approach to providing housing for low-income families and households, and that the hopes of tens of thousands of young families were to be devastated because their long wait of seven, eight or nine years for a council house - this period has since extended to 15 years - had come to nothing. They would never have a home that they could call their own and would become subject to private developers, speculators and banks, many of which had helped to bankrupt the country. I made this statement on foot of a major problem that had emerged with the RAS. The original entrants were told that they would participate in the scheme for four years, after which they would be given a council house. In June 2011 they were suddenly told that this was not the case and that they would be deemed to be housed under the RAS. There was uproar.
We held a press conference in Buswell's Hotel with representatives of Tenants First and some of the affected families in my area. The media were befuddled trying to figure out the problem because they did not understand how housing waiting lists worked. They have taken four years to catch up. At the press conference we pointed out that this was the beginning of striking tens of thousands of families off housing waiting lists. On foot of this outrage, the 400 people in question were told that, while they would be placed on a fixed transfer list, everyone who entered the RAS after that date would be deemed to be housed. That is, of course, what happened. Anyone who joined the RAS afterwards was taken off the list.
There are now thousands of people on the RAS. A few hundred are entitled to be on a transfer list because this concession was forced from the Government and local authorities at the time but the vast majority of people on the RAS have been taken off the list and are deemed housed. This Bill expands this to take everyone off the list. News of this is starting to filter out now but most people will only find out when they are forced onto the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. When they discover that their wait of ten to 15 years has come to nothing it will cause despair and outrage. They will learn that after all that time they will not get a council house but will be deemed to be housed in private rented accommodation. The councils will then be able to say they discharged their obligation to those people.
In response to these points the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has said people can go on a transfer list. The RAS experience is clear. If a transfer list exists, and there are many local authorities that do not have one, one can only get on it if there are chronic overcrowding problems, medical needs, acute anti-social difficulties and so on. Only people suffering such problems will be accepted in their application to go on a transfer list. Even these people will have to wait months and sometimes years. The Minister of State suggests that people who do not have the acute problems outlined, who have merely spent a long time waiting, will somehow have a right to a council house but this is preposterous. We cannot even house the people in the most dire and chronic need.
Housing departments will face the most impossible and diabolical choices as to who should be allocated the tiny number of houses that are available. I will give the example of an elderly man I am dealing with at the moment. He has had two strokes, he has brain damage, his memory is gone and he has serious speech difficulties as a result of the strokes. He has just been released from the National Rehabilitation Hospital. He is diabetic, needs two shots per day and must eat carefully to allow for those shots. Due to his memory problems the fear is he may not take his shots and if he does not do so he could die. He was released and put in emergency housing in Dún Laoghaire that is overwhelmingly populated by people with chronic drug or alcohol problems. When he arrived with his family and saw where he had to stay he was stricken with fear. On seeing his reaction his family worried he might keel over and have another stroke but the council said there was nowhere else for him to go. He is still staying in that emergency housing. If he dies as a result of the anxiety induced by being placed in completely inappropriate hostel accommodation it will be on the heads of this Government and the housing authorities. It is not the council's fault because they have no other accommodation for him. The people who run the emergency housing in question admit the facility is not set up for such a case. They argue that they are not doctors but rather deal with people with chronic alcohol and drug problems. They say they are not in a position to look after this man but will do their best. They say the emergency housing is not appropriate. Similarly, the hospital has discharged him because the bed is needed. His life is in danger.
Given what is proposed under the HAP scheme, how will a housing authority allocate houses to people who have been on the list for ten or 12 years? The Minister of State says such people are entitled to a transfer. To whom will the authority allocate a house, the man who may die because he is in inappropriate hostel accommodation or the family that has waited on the list for 15 years? That family's need may not be as pressing an emergency but its claim on a council house is very legitimate. Where stands the list for these people? What of transfer priority or any priority? The man I refer to cannot be housed. I was told by the local authority yesterday it could be weeks or months before he is housed. How will a person on the list get a transfer in this situation? It will not happen. Housing officials will face appalling choices on who will get a house as every possible choice will cause someone else to suffer. Only those in desperate need will be considered a priority. This is going to be a disaster. Even those at death's door cannot be guaranteed housing.
What the Minister of State proposes will not work. Housing departments are overrun already and I imagine officials feel sick with anxiety at what is going on and the situation in which the Government is putting them. The Minister of State must admit the truth and say this is not a permanent solution to people's housing issues. The RAS has not worked and placing a so-called obligation on local authorities to house people through the HAP scheme, which is an expanded version of RAS, gives people no chance of getting a council house. These people with housing needs will be thrown to the sharks, private landlords and developers. Only a trickle of people in the most dire circumstances may be housed.